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Detrot Pistons Fan's View: Respect for Ben Wallace

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Loyal Detroit Pistons fans appreciate center Ben Wallace, in the twilight of his 16th season, by the moniker of "Big Ben."

The Big Ben nickname, if somewhat trite, makes sense on the surface. Ben Wallace indeed is a big guy, except for within the realm of NBA centers. Compared to such behemoths as Dwight Howard, or considering his historic encounters with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, he may not exactly be "Little Ben," but he indeed is "Short Ben."

For this reason, I sort of cringe when I hear the "Big Ben" moniker, because when we consider that he's not all that tall (for an NBA center), his career accomplishments as four-time Defensive Player of the Year and as a top rebounder and shot blocker become all the more incredible.

Ben Wallace is listed as 6-foot-9, but he has confirmed that without his former 'fro, he's more like 6-foot-7. That's the same height, for instance, as Rip Hamilton, although the 240-pound Wallace obviously has more power and bulk.

A former comparatively squat NBA center, Wes Unseld, the best fast break outlet passer in history, recruited Wallace to the Washington franchise as an undrafted free agent.

"I faced some of the same challenges as Ben," Unseld once told "A lot of people wondered if I could play center in the NBA at 6-foot-7, and between you and me, Ben is no bigger than I am. But something clicked watching him, and I knew I wanted to see more."

Previously, although it's now hard to imagine, the Boston Celtics had given Wallace a trying in the backcourt, figuring he was too short to play up front. When Wallace struggled during his early years in D.C. and in Orlando, friends were regretting that he had turned down a college football scholarship and a potential career as an NFL linebacker.

Joe Dumars looked like a genius when he nabbed Wallace (and Chucky "Cheese" Atkins) when forced to deal Grant Hill to the Magic, but give Joe D credit, he laughingly admitted he had no idea that Ben would become such a force on defense and on the boards.

We couldn't blame Wallace for departing in 2006 when the Chicago Bulls overly gifted him with a four-year, $60 million deal, but I was dismayed when Ben's attitude turned sour during the previous spring's playoffs, when Dywane Wade and the Heat ousted the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals. Wallace wanted the ball more on offense (Larry Brown had done so the previous two seasons to pacify him), but didn't he realize how horrible he was on offense and especially at the charity stripe?

Wallace was a bust with the Bulls (poetic justice) and not much better when he shifted to the Cleveland Cavs. In fairness, bum knees and worn muscles from his intense style of play were starting to take their toll. Psychic amends were made in fall 2009 (plus nobody else wanted Ben by then), and Wallace returned home, for far less than $60 mil, I might add.

Hopefully Ben Wallace will retire, as expected, at the close of this season. He's already played a tad too long, although he still has his moments. And, hopefully, despite some of the troubles that occurred, he will recevie due recognition as his career comes to a close. Dang, did we ever see a guy play harder than Ben Wallace during his prime? Or make the most of limited basketball skills? Or hold his own and more against taller opponents?

(Footnote: If the Pistons want to retire Ben's number, it could get complicated. He graciously allowed Rodney Stuckey to keep the No. 3 from the championship era, which is why he's now No. 6.)

(Footnote II: Charles Barkley was listed at 6-foot-6, but at only an actual 6-foot-4 he played with a power forward's style. Even more incredible than Ben Wallace.)

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